The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany; Year A (2/2/2014)

Lessons:1 Micah 6:1-8 Psalm 15 (1) 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 St. Matthew 5:1-12

Prayer of the Day
: Holy God, you confound the world’s wisdom in giving your kingdom to the lowly and the pure in heart.  Give us such a hunger and thirst for justice, and perseverance in striving for peace, that in our words and deeds the world may see the life of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

St. Matthew Matthew 5:1-12, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

A Different Kind of Blessedness

"Only the strong survive." That is a predominant theme in our world, and it is a predominant theme as we look at Jesus' world as well. Only in those days, the stakes are much higher: it is a life and death proposition. There is no social welfare system to serve as a security net in Jesus' day. There is no legal means by which one can file for bankruptcy and have a clean start. If a person hits bottom, and isn't fortunate enough to have a family to fall back on, he or she can end up being a servant or a slave for the rest of life. That's the world into which Jesus walks.

Jesus brings to the people of his day a rather unusual message: it is called the “Beatitudes.” Imagine how people must have reacted to these words. In that world of "do or die" — in that terribly dangerous and competitive time — along comes Jesus, describing those whose lives are blessed; those whose lives are "fuller" and "richer" than other's. Jesus words come as a sharp attack on the norms of society.

To the question, "Whose life is truly blessed?" when society answers, "The successful and the self reliant." Jesus answers, "No, those who are spiritually beaten up." When society answers, "Those who are able to escape the deep pain that comes with living." Jesus answers, "No, those who mourn." When society answers, "Those who do whatever they please." Jesus answers, "No, those who do what God requires." When society answers, "Those who have others at their disposal." Jesus answers, "No, those who are merciful to others."

Why do we have these two radically different ideas of whose lives are truly blessed and whose aren't? Why do Jesus and society seem to so radically disagree on this account? Well, there are many pieces to the answer for that question, but one piece lies in the word that Jesus used to describe it. Jesus says, "Blessed are those.”

Jesus uses the Greek word μακάριος (“makarios”) — a word that refers to the very highest stage of happiness and well-being. It stands for a contentment that rises above all else. The things of the world that we enjoy cannot create that kind of blessedness. There is only one way that a person can experience the blessing that Jesus describes in this morning's Gospel lesson: that is to have our lives touched by our loving and caring God. To be cared for, and nurtured, and supported by the one who knows our every struggle, our every pain, our every difficulty.

That is a much different picture of the road to happiness than the one our world provides. Our world often seems to believe that happiness comes through strength. If we are strong in our professional lives; if we are strong in our family lives; if we are strong athletically, or socially, or financially, then we will find happiness through our achievements. Jesus, in today's Gospel, paints a different picture of the road to happiness. His image has more to do with weakness. It has to do with humility and mercy. It has to do with meekness and purity. These are signs of a person who allows himself or herself to be touched by God.

That's probably the hardest lesson for us to learn. We are in a society that admires strength, and many of us have found out how to use it to make life more pleasant. We've been able to find comfort and even a certain degree of security in the distractions and support that our economic and personal strength can sometimes provide. But the most important question that today's Gospel asks us is this: "Is the happiness that comes from our own strength — is the blessedness we experience from our own achievements — the kind of gift that is eternal?"

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How does Jesus interpret the word “blessed” in today’s Gospel?
  2. In what ways does his understanding of what it means to be blessed differ from society?
  3. How must his first century listeners have understood these words?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do I think of when I imagine what it means to be be blessed?
  2. How does my relationship with God shape the way I understanding blessing?
  3. What is eternal about being blessed by God?